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A Visit from the Ghost of Linux Future

A Visit from the Ghost of Linux Future

"I see Linux going into a smaller, simpler OS, with a good base of apps integrated to the web," predicted Mobile Raptor blogger Roberto Lim. "The standard for ease of use won't be how close it is to MS Windows and Office, but how similar it is to the iPhone or Android." The home desktop is "soon to be extinct," Lim concluded. "So, Linux in a decade: 'Android' on a laptop. Somewhere between Chrome OS and Windows."

By Katherine Noyes
08/11/11 5:00 AM PT

Industry pundits may typically favor the start of a new year for making long-term predictions, but here in the Linux blogosphere -- where the dog days of summer have us effectively trapped in a small set of heavily air-conditioned bars and saloons -- we like August.

When else, after all, are the hours so plentiful or the tempers so hot?

That, indeed, may be why TuxRadar's recent Open Ballot -- entitled, "What will Linux look like in 10 years?" -- was met with such glee.

At last, a meaty topic that can help us while away the time until the mercury sees fit to dip below 100 again!

'What Sort of OS Will It Be?'

To wit: "We want you to tell us: how do you think Linux will look, one decade from now?" the TuxRadar mavens asked. "We don't mean in a cosmetic sense (although you're free to comment on that if you want). But rather, what sort of OS will it be, and how will most people be using it?

"For instance, you might predict that the desktop wars will die out and most users will be running little more than a browser on the kernel," TuxRadar explained. "Maybe via Android it'll morph into a free alternative to iOS."

Readers on the site had no shortage of ideas.

'People Won't Talk About It'

"It will look like a cross between Android and MacOS," suggested heiowge on TuxRadar, for example. "Probably. Unfortunately."

Alternatively, "It will look however I want it to look," offered Prolific Puffin. "This is LINUX. That is the entire point of it."

Then again: "Because it will underlie most computing applications in the world, people won't talk about it -- just the applications that run on top of it," predicted John. "Whether you are a FOSS coder or a proprietary, you will differentiate yourself by what the user sees, not what is under the hood."

And, for some comic relief: "I believe they will still be waiting for the year of the desktop," quipped Hamster.

'GPLv3 Has No Place in Their Playpen'

The topic had just barely made it across the wires and into the blogosphere when the first frosty mug was slammed down decisively on the ring-stained surface of the Punchy Penguin's bar. The first local Linux blogger had awoken, and a feisty debate was about to begin.

"What will Linux look like in 2021? That answer is simple...Android!" began Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. "The future is mobile, and Google has already said GPLv3 has no place in their playpen."

Google also has "the money and the moxie to pull it off by giving their product away for free," hairyfeet added.

'A Diverse Set of Devices'

"Linux won't look like anything," opined Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. "It will be powering lots of different devices with many different user interfaces, from touchscreen devices to conventional laptops and desktops."

GUIs for Linux, in fact, "will stop trying to be everything to everybody and start to specialize," Travers asserted.

"I would predict these trends based on the fact that a larger community of users working with a more diverse set of devices will be better able to create specialized interfaces for them," he concluded.

'The Problem Was Not the OS'

Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, looked to the past for insight.

"In trying to figure out where the Linux desktop will be in 10 years, I have to look at why it has not gotten where it could have been by now in the past decade," Lim told Linux Girl.

"I think the Linux OS pretty much became ready for the average user way back in 2003 or 2004," he explained. "The problem was not the OS, but the applications -- people were just too used to IE and MS Office, and similar was not good enough."

'Just an App Launcher'

Indeed, for the typical home and business user, "the OS is just an app launcher," Lim added.

If Office and Photoshop had been made available for Linux, in fact, "I think things could be very different today," he suggested.

In any case, "the main benefit to Linux from the rise of iOS and Android is that people realize there are good apps outside of MS Office and Adobe Photoshop and other Windows software," Lim said. "Windows' market domination is at its greatest risk ever, and this is where Linux should focus."

'Android on a Laptop'

Linux, then, should not try to compete for "those who are invested into Windows or Mac OS, but the new young generation of smartphone users who are more open to using 'alternative' software, since they grew up on smartphones using Document To Go or PicSay," Lim recommended.

"I see Linux going into a smaller, simpler OS, with a good base of apps integrated to the web," he predicted. "The standard for ease of use won't be how close it is to MS Windows and Office, but how similar it is to the iPhone or Android."

The home desktop is "soon to be extinct," Lim concluded. "So, Linux in a decade: 'Android' on a laptop. Somewhere between Chrome OS and Windows."

'It's the Right Way to Do IT'

Finally, blogger Robert Pogson took an even higher-level view.

"2021 will be another great year for GNU/Linux," Pogson began. "I expect it will have 1/N share of everything in IT, where N is the number of choices of OS."

Linux, in fact, "may well have a much larger share, as we have MeeGo, Android/Linux and who knows how many other operating systems built on the Linux kernel," he pointed out. "Linux will be the core of many because it supports so much hardware."

Windows, meanwhile, "may still have a share of IT," but primarily just "from those lacking imagination or utterly locked-in to M$," Pogson predicted.

"Whether money or malware dictates choices in IT remains to be seen, but freedom to examine, modify, copy and distribute the code will keep FLOSS around forever," he concluded. "It's the right way to do IT."


Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


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